Caregiver loss: How well are you coping?

As a family caregiver, you are likely experiencing many types of loss, each triggering normal, if uncomfortable, emotional responses. 

Losing the person you love. Illness and frailty can change a person. So, too, can some of the behavior and personality changes that often occur with dementia. The absence of familiar ways to connect may bring up feelings of sadness and grieving well before your relative is physically gone. 

Losing your former life. Have you had to drop everything to take care of your family member? Anger, resentment, frustration—and then guilt—are understandable responses to this very real sacrifice. 

Losing your connections. Caring for a family member can be very isolating. You may feel alone with your responsibilities and feel that no one helps or understands. This experience often prompts anxiety and fear.

Here are some tips for handling these types of losses:

  • Identify each loss and be gentle with yourself. Your emotions are perfectly normal. And even if you wish they didn’t exist, the best way to deal with them is to begin by acknowledging their impact. Writing in a journal may help.
  • Talk with others. Consider a support group—in person, online, telephone. You are not the only one having to bear strong feelings. It may help to hear from others and learn their coping strategies.
  • Control what you can. You can’t stop your relative’s illness, but learning more about it and what you can do will help you feel less at its mercy.
  • Keep at least one thread of your “other life.” Don’t abandon yourself. Make it a priority to do something each week that keeps your connection to your “old” life alive. You need to safeguard your future.

Create positive memories. Experiment and find pleasant activities you can do with your relative now. These tender and joyful moments will be part of what you cherish when they are gone.